Beethoven Variations: Poems on a Life


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‘These are absolutely gorgeous poems, beautifully written, full of the most wonderful imagery. The book really delves into Beethoven’s imagination and his world. It has made me want to go and read all her other work as well because it’s so sensitive and so closely attuned to all sides of Beethoven. She doesn’t restrict herself to Beethoven and his life. She relates it to her own experience of his music and of Vienna. She has a marvellous way of surprising you with hindsight and atmosphere and context. I think it’s an absolute masterpiece. I love it to pieces.’ - Jessica Duchen, novelist and music critic, Best Books on Beethoven

‘Wonderful… Ruth Padel writes with true passion. Her love for, and understanding of, the man and his music shine through each poem.’ - Steven Isserlis, cellist.

A fascinating poetic journey into the mind and heart of a musical genius.

‘How to uncover from biographical details the mystery that is music? With precision, heart-breaking beauty and lyric insight, Ruth Padel performs a miracle: he comes alive before us, the son of a drunk, who became a genius, and lost everything, and found his way back. And here we are, following Padel’s own genius for composing the music of a story: generous, painful, tender, gorgeously lyrical.’ - Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

‘Beethoven’s music encompasses the entire blinding spectrum of human thought and emotion, from violent to ethereal, chaos to sublimity. Ruth Padel’s poems capture that uncontainable spirit to an astounding degree, and preserve the primal shock of our first hearing.’ - Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise

‘A moving portrayal of Beethoven’s extraordinary life and still more extraordinary compositions.’ –   Barry Cooper, Beethoven scholar, author of Beethoven and The Beethoven Compendium.

BEETHOVEN VARIATIONS, Ruth Padel's new sequence of poems in four movements, is a personal voyage through the life and legend of one of the world’s greatest composers. Two hundred and fifty years after Beethoven was born, she uncovers the man behind the music, retracing his steps through Europe from Bonn to Vienna, Linz and Prague, tracing his private thoughts and feelings through letters, diaries, sketch-books, and the conversation books he used as his hearing grew worse.

Here is Beethoven as a battered four-year-old weeping at the clavier; the young virtuoso pianist agonised by encroaching deafness; the passionate heartbroken lover; the clumsy eccentric making coffee with exactly sixty beans; the isolated artist who ends even his most harrowing works on a note of hope.

Padel’s quest for Beethoven takes her into the heart of Europe and back to her own musical childhood. Her great-grandfather studied in Leipzig with Moscheles, a pupil of Beethoven, and became a concert pianist before migrating to Britain. Her parents met through making music, and Ruth grew up playing viola, Beethoven’s instrument as a child. This book grew from her five year poetry-and-music collaboration with the Endellion String Quartet, beginning with a Beethoven concert  (read a review of that concert here). The book is a string-player’s intimate response to  Beethoven's music as well as his life - and a lyrical exploration of the power of music and myth-making in all our lives.